Sunday, 3 February 2013
Curtis Warren----More questions without answers
As always it is imperative that Members draft questions which are precise and leave Ministers in no doubt as to what is being asked. This is even more important when lodging written questions because unlike Oral Questions there is no opportunity to ask supplementary questions. In the Written question below it is apparent that Deputy Mike Higgins was attempting to establish who the Crown Officers are accountable to, but as one can see the question did not achieve that goal.
"Will Her Majesty’s Attorney General explain to members the various checks and balances that apply to the Law Officers and the Law Officers Department and explain how and in what way the department is accountable to the States of Jersey Assembly?”
The AG’s written answer was;
It is unclear from the question precisely what is intended by “accountability” and “checks and balances”. The Attorney General and Solicitor General are appointed by the Crown and hold office during good behaviour. Although the Attorney General is the senior Law Officer they are independent of each other. The Law Officers have supervision of the Criminal and Civil Functions of the department through the Director of the Criminal Division and the Director of the Civil Division.
The Law Officers are sworn office holders and are bound by the terms of their oaths.
Many of the members of the Department are also lawyers who owe independent professional obligations. Other than the Law Officers, all members of the department are subject to the codes of conduct and other policies applying to all civil servants.
The Law Officers’ Department carries out a number of different functions and different considerations apply to the various functions.
Neither the Law Officers nor the department are accountable to the States Assembly for prosecution decisions or prosecutorial matters which are and must remain independent of political considerations and pressure.
Similarly, the Law Officers’ Department is not accountable to the States Assembly for operational matters as it must maintain its ability to give impartial and independent advice. Subject to such exceptions the Law Officers’ Department is accountable to the States Assembly through the Attorney General or Solicitor General who are members of the Assembly.
Financially the Law Officers’ Department is accountable to the Chief Minister’s Department and Treasury and thereby ultimately to the States Assembly for matters of financial management.
Some decisions of the Law Officers may be challenged before the courts. In the exercise of their functions, the Law Officers are public authorities under the Human Rights Jersey Law and must therefore act compatibly with the Convention rights of others, whenever such rights are engaged by the exercise of those functions.
Should the States Assembly fundamentally lose confidence in a Law Officer then the Assembly could adopt a motion of no confidence in that officer. Although the motion would not be legally binding, the Crown and the officer concerned would inevitably pay regard to the views expressed by the elected representatives of the Island.
Several readers have questioned the Crown Officers' accountability, the answer above makes it clear that the AG, SG, the law officers and their Department are not accountable to the States Assembly. However, financially the Law Officers’ Department is accountable to the Chief Minister’s Department and Treasury and thereby ultimately to the States Assembly.
It should be noted that the AG, the SG and the Bailiff are unelected Members of the States. The AG correctly states that he is not accountable to the States Assembly unless there is an over spend in his budget. but he does not say to whom he and other members of the Law Officers are accountable to. So don’t be surprised if Deputy Higgins submits a further question to ascertain where the accountability lies.
Unfortunately the Written answer given by Senator Le Marquand to Deputy Higgins' question also missed the target, he asked;
“Will the Minister explain the apparent contradiction between the Supreme Court’s criticism of the actions of the three police officers involved in the recent Curtis Warren bugging case and their exoneration by the Disciplinary Panel? Is the Minister satisfied that the public retains faith in our police force and the judiciary?
Senator Le Marquand’s answer is as follows;
“These are two different sets of proceedings with different burdens of proof and with different sets of evidence being presented. The public can be fully confident that the issues were properly investigated by an outside Police Force, that the recommendations of that force were acted upon and that a disciplinary hearing was conducted in accordance with the current law.
The public may also take some comfort from the fact that independently of this case, the States of Jersey Police leadership and I have commissioned a review of the current law in relation to police disciplinary matters and that I intend to make improvements in this area.
The results of recent Jersey Annual Social Surveys of public opinion have shown a high and increasing level of public confidence in the States of Jersey Police Force and I believe that the vast majority of the public of this Island have faith in our States of Jersey Police Force and particularly in its senior leadership.
In the context of this matter I do not understand the reference to the judiciary as this disciplinary matter was presided over by the Chief Constable of another British Police Force.”
As one can see Senator Le Marquand answered the first and most important part of the question in one sentence without actually giving an explanation of the condradiction. Had he done so Members would have realised that important evidence which had been previously (intentionally???) omitted was produced at the Disciplinary Hearing.
The second part of the question resulted in an excellent flag waving exercise but without substance. For whilst there may have been questionnaires circulated relating to public confidence in the States Police as a whole, I don’t think any questionnaire has been circulated specifically relating to confidence of its senior leadership. This is a matter I will cover in my comments to Deputy Tadier’s question below.
In the third part of the question I think Deputy Higgins was asking about the Island’s Judiciary but because he was not specific Senator Le Marquand was able to answer according to his own interpretation of the question.
Deputy Tadier received a better answer to his question below, but unless he actually sees the full accounts he is unable to question the figures given, his question was:
"Will the Minister give a breakdown of the total cost to his Department in respect of the disciplinary action against three of the officers involved with the importation of illegal drugs in 2007, as follows -
(a) The cost of the criminal investigation by Hampshire Police and their associated legal costs?
(b) The States’ police’s legal costs preceding the disciplinary Hearing?
(c) The cost of the disciplinary hearing including the legal advice for the Presiding Officer?
(d) The travel and accommodation cost for the various officers attending the disciplinary Hearing and advise from which budget the funding is coming from?
It is only possible to give precise figures for bills paid to date for matters other than normal police officers’ time and the figures below refer to this.
(a) It should be noted that the investigation into the actions of the three officers started as a general review of police actions. As issues arose, it became an investigation into potential criminal and / or disciplinary proceedings. The total cost of the whole process was £117,104.
(b) There was more than one disciplinary hearing, so I am not sure as to which hearing the Deputy is referring. This not withstanding , it is not possible to separate out the legal costs incurred preceding any disciplinary hearing from those incurred during a disciplinary hearing as, understandably, a great deal of work is done in the run up to a hearing as well as during. The total legal costs associated with the disciplinary hearings to date are £119,808. This figure includes the £10,000 that I agreed to contribute towards the legal costs to ensure equality of arms for both sides after it was brought to my attention by the independent Chief Officer conducting the disciplinary proceedings that the financial resources available to the Police Association may be exceeded.
(c) The cost of the disciplinary hearings including the legal advice for the Presiding Officer to date is £6,192.
(d) The cost of travel and accommodation for the officers attending the disciplinary hearings to date are £4,562.
The budget is part of expenditure on Police Operations and has been funded from the 2012 Police Budget.
It should be noted that the figures are those known to date and are likely to be considerably higher when the matter is finally concluded. In previous Blogs I had questioned the decision to instigate disciplinary proceedings and what analysis and risk assessment was conducted before embarking in what was going to be a very costly affair. The Judgement does not make pretty reading and those responsible for instigating the disciplinary proceedings are left with egg on face.
In his answer above Senator Le Maquand says “ The public may also take some comfort from the fact that independently of this case, the States of Jersey Police leadership and I have commissioned a review of the current law in relation to police disciplinary matters and that I intend to make improvements in this area.
It should be noted that the Chief Police Officer decided to request Hants Police to investigate the Warren arrest and was supported by Senator Le Marquand. Disciplinary matters are within the Deputy Chief Officer’s remit. This is the same Deputy Chief Officer who only a couple of years ago instigated disciplinary proceeding against 2 officers after the AG had stated that there was insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The case was dismissed but it cost in the region of £400k. Therefore I don’t know how Senator Le Marquand believes “the vast majority of the public of this Island have faith in our States of Jersey Police Force and particularly in its senior leadership.
It would be interesting to know whether Senator Le Marquand has confidence in his Deputy Chief Officer who seems prone to slipping on banana skins.
In addition to the three Written Questions the three Oral Questions received responses pretty much in line with predictions in my previous Blog. What continues to disappoint is the failure of other States Members to express an interest in what is clearly a public interest matter and costing in excess of £3m. Perhaps a Scrutiny Panel might take up the matter.
Senator Le Marquand was asked when he was going to release the Judgement. As predicted he said it was confidential and when pressed why he was able to release the Power documents which were also supposed to be confidential, the Senator was able to come up with a totally implausible answer which was not challenged.
Audio Recordings of the Oral Questions can be found courtesy of The Jersey Way Blog.
It is common knowledge that confidential documents do find their way into the public domain, so expect Senator Le Marquand and the Attorney General to be asked further questions when the Judgement is eventually made public.